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Monday, June 28, 2010

MEDICARE PATCH APPLIED; PAYMENTS ON HOLD AGAIN

The 21-percent cut is, temporarily again, on hold. Unfortunately, so are Medicare and TRICARE payments to physicians as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services hustles to implement the 2.2-percent increase that Congress included in its latest Band-Aid. Payments reflecting the new fee schedule, which will be in place through Nov. 30, should begin flowing by Thursday. It was last Thursday when the U.S. House of Representatives finally approved the patch. The increase automatically will be applied retroactively for claims for services on or after June 1. It’s one of several sad commentaries on Medicare financing that the 2.2-percent increase is the largest for physicians since 2001. Here are two more: If Congress does nothing between now and Nov. 30, Medicare payments will drop by 23.5 percent. And on Jan. 1, 2011, the cut will be an additional 6.1 percent. "I don’t want to be watching Congress wrestle with this turkey of an issue on Thanksgiving," TMA President Sue Bailey, MD, said in a news release after the House vote. If history is any guide, it will likely be a Thanksgiving turkey and a Christmas goose. Prospects for a long-term replacement for the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula remain awfully dim. I do want to send a shout out to the four House members from Texas who stood up during the debate to call for a permanent fix. They were Reps. Michael Burgess, MD (R-Lewisville), Charlie Gonzalez (D-San Antonio), Gene Green (D-Houston), and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Houston). Dr. Bailey wants to take them up on it. “I am ready, right now, to roll up my sleeves and get to work,” she wrote in a letter to the Texas delegation in Congress. “But physicians can’t do it without Congress. And our patients, your constituents, need us to work together now and get this done.”

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